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Submarines in Space

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The plastic model of the Leif (#26) is 33.5 centimeters long. At 1:500 scale, this means the actual ship is 168 meters long (551 feet). This is roughly the length of a Russian Oscar (#25) class submarine (154 meters). An Oscar is approximately 18,000 metric tons. The unloaded Leif is likely to be less massive, since it is probably constructed out of titanium and aluminum instead of armor plate.

In his marvelous blueprint poster, Robert Merrill has the following specifications for the Leif Ericson:

I find these values mostly reasonable. The couple of values I do not agree with, well, that's my problem. Mr. Merrill made the poster, so he gets to write whatever he wants on it. The poster is nine-tenths of the way to becoming canon already.

You probably noticed that the Leif Ericson has a "conning tower" much like that on a submarine (the technical term is a "sail"). Apparently Matt Jefferies liked conning towers, since he put one on the Botany Bay as well.

The Botany Bay AKA "DY-100" from "Space Seed". Also appeared as Automated Ore Freighter Woden in "The Ultimate Computer".
Original studio miniature.
Blueprints by Phil Broad. Click on blueprint for larger version.
Original sketches by Matt Jeffries.

There are images of models of the Botany Bay here, here, here, and here.

Paul Davies re-designs the Botany Bay with actual 1996 technology. Click on blueprint for larger version.
My Blender version of Paul Davies Botany Bay. Click for larger version. More images available here.
Christopher Doll's I.N.S.S. MacArthur

This does raise an interesting possibility. There is actually a tradition in science fiction of converting submarines into spacecraft. The earliest instance I could find was an article by the legendary John W. Campbell. He was convinced that if the so called "Dean Drive" space-drive could be made operational, mounting it in a Skate class submarine would make an instant spaceship (as long as you attached a huge tank of water to the coolant intake. Well, maybe it isn't quite that simple.). There are plenty of weird spacedrives lying around.

By Damon Knight:

Oh, the Dean Machine, the Dean Machine,

You put it right in a submarine,

And it flies so high that it can't be seen --

The wonderful, wonderful Dean Machine!

Analog Magazine June 1960. Note coolant tank below submarine.

Aridas Sofia has made a fascinating observation. He was noted a connection between submarines, Matt Jeffries, Dean Drives, and the engine room of the Starship Enterprise. Remember that Matt Jeffries designed the submarine-like Leif Ericson and Botany Bay, plus the Enterprise.

(The "Submarines In Space" web page) details the fascination of SF author and editor John Campbell with the early 1960s "Dean Drive" -- an early attempt at antigravity that proved to be no more than the chaotic fluctuations of a motor interacting with a scale. But this led Campbell to discuss the possibility of raising atomic submarines into space with this antigravity device, and using them to explore the solar system. I know it sounds daft now, but from the perspective of the early 1960s I suppose putting a nuclear powered vehicle designed to survive the harsh environment of the mid ocean depths into space made some sense. Whatever, it certainly had some effect on Jefferies, since he started drawing spaceships with conning towers and sub sails. One of them made it to become the DY-100. Another made it to become the AMT Leif Ericson model. And there are more in his papers that never made it beyond the sketch stage. Aside from his penchant for drawing ships with ring-shaped propulsion systems -- another example that I believe shows him toying with exotic propulsion -- the sub-ships seem to be his most favored archetypal shape for spacecraft. In comparison to these two forms, the saucer and nacelles shape is almost non-existent among his drawings (or at least among the many scans of his drawings I have collected.)

Engine Room of Starship Enterprise, from "Tomorrow is Yesterday" (1967).
Norman Dean and his infamous "Dean Drive" (1961). Note trapezoidal frame.

So, I think it possible he considered the impulse (ed note: the Starship Enterprise's "Impulse Drive") an exotic propulsion system. What made me finally decide to act on that suspicion and include it alongside a conventional "rocket" as a component of the impulse engine? Was it the presence of mass- reducing tech in the TNG tech manual?

Y'all know me better than that.

Nope, it was this photo I found, of Dean showing off his "Dean Drive".

If this thing really influenced Jefferies creation of the sub ships as much as I think it might have done, then this "Dean Drive" might have influenced him, too. Does this thing look vaguely familiar to you? Does it in any way resemble the trapezoidal tunnel in main engineering? I have to admit that tunnel has always had me a bit flummoxed. It is just such a weird shape. Why in the hell would he want to employ a weird shape like a three dimensional trapezoid -- a frustum -- as a futuristic power plant?

I never could figure out exactly what he was relating it to. Was it a reactor? Was it a rocket? Was it meant to relate to that trapezoidal greeblie on the top aft of the saucer? Was it meant to be a conduit to the nacelles? Was it a forced- perspective set of a long tunnel? None of these options made complete sense. But this "Dean Drive" begins to put that tunnel in perspective, taken alongside his sub ships. I think he was portraying some kind of Dean Drive.

Well, Aridas' explanation convinces me. He is currently working on blueprints for the original season Starship Enterprise. Click on images to enlarge.

Other novels that use this theme include The Daleth Effect by Harry Harrison, Gilpin's Space by Reginald Bretnor, and Salvage and Destroy by Edward Llewellyn. In the latter novel, an ancient alien interstellar empire is worried about the large US and Soviet submarine fleets. Once Earth discovered anti-grav and FTL drives, the warlike unstable Earthlings would have a ready-made fleet of combat starships.

The general idea in all these novels is that a breakthrough in spacecraft propulsion (like anti-gravity) could be rapidly exploited by mounting it in existing pressurized vehicles. That means submarines. Later, when actual purpose built spacecraft were designed, perhaps they would keep items like the conning tower, either from tradition or because it actually is useful. Thus explaining the conning tower on the Leif and the Botany Bay. It also explains how the Strategic Space Command can have a starship as sophisticated as the Leif Ericson by the impossibly short time of 2070 (see Tales of the Flying Mountains by Poul Anderson).

When somebody mentioned that the biggest obstacle to space exploration and colonization is the cost of transport, Rick Robinson said:

To say the least! One basic fact about the age of exploration and colonization on Earth was that it used the same types of ships already developed for ordinary intra-European trade. The caravel was a (very slightly) specialized development, but the Santa Maria and Mayflower were both ordinary freighters, and the galleon was originally developed to perform military missions in European waters.

How would space travel have developed in the last 40 years if you could buy a second-hand jetliner - or even specially modify a C-130 - and fly it to Mars?

#9065 Pegasus class hyperspace submarine. From the Stardate:3000 line of miniatures
From FTL: 2448 role playing game. Artwork by William Wardrop.
3-D rendering of the Alaska B from FTL: 2448. Artwork by Paul Lippincott.

Of course there was a period in SF book cover art where most space ships were submarine like. It is a pity that in reality submarines would make really lousy spaceships.

Another interesting craft is the flying submarine/drill mole-machine "Atragon".

Don't forget Blue Submarine 6.

Of course if you really want to get picky, I suppose that contraption from The Three Stooges in Orbit would qualify.